Raptors Weigh in on Johnson's Offensive Surge
BOSTON – Amir Johnson has been a quietly efficient scorer throughout the season for the Boston Celtics, but he has been making a lot of noise with his offense of late.
The starting power forward has shot 22-for-28 (78.6 percent) from the field during his last four games, making him by far Boston’s most efficient scorer during that span. During his last two contests, Johnson has shot an incredible 14-for-16 (87.5 percent) from the field, which included a 9-for-10 performance for a season-high 18 points Sunday night in Philadelphia.
Those numbers may be surprising to most, but not to the team facing him tonight: the Toronto Raptors.
Johnson played for the Raptors for six seasons prior to his arrival in Boston last summer, and Toronto coach Dwane Casey is well aware of his former student’s tendencies.
“He’s an experienced guy,” said Casey of the 28-year-old, 11-year NBA vet. “He’s been in the league since he was, what, 15 or 16 years old, so he’s been in the league for a long time. He knows how to play, he’s smart, he’s crafty around [the rim]; he looks like he’s never going to get the shot off, but it goes in.”
For those who have followed Johnson’s lengthy career, his recent surge should not come as a complete shock. Statistically speaking, he has been one of the most efficient scorers in NBA history.
Johnson’s career field goal percentage of 57.3 percent ranks him seventh all-time among players who have made at least 2,000 field goals during their career. Those who sit ahead of him on that list include Artis Gilmore (60.0 percent), Shaquille O’Neal (58.2 percent) and Dwight Howard (58.1 percent). Some that trail closely behind include Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (56.0 percent) and Celtics Legend Kevin McHale (55.4 percent).
Johnson hasn’t deviated much from his career mark this season; he is boasting a team-best 57.9 percent clip, which is nearly 11 percent higher than his closest teammate, Tyler Zeller.
The reason why Johnson is so efficient is because nearly all of his shots come from within the paint, where he thrives with a variety of hook shots, put-backs and rim-rolls.
Johnson’s last 55 field goal makes, dating back to Feb. 5, have all come from within the restricted area. He has shot 64.8 percent from that region during Boston’s 20 games since that date.
“You’ve gotta be efficient if you’re going to shoot down there,” said Celtics coach Brad Stevens Monday evening. “And he’s pretty darn efficient because he’s a good athlete and he puts himself in good position to get the ball.”
When Johnson gets the ball in the paint and is able to get off a shot, it’s far more likely than not that it’s going to drop in for two points. The Raptors take note of that high success rate and will do their best to keep him out of that area tonight.
“You just gotta keep him out of the paint,” said former teammate and close friend DeMar DeRozan. “If you keep him outside the paint, keep a body on him, make it tough for him to get anywhere in the paint to get a hand on the ball, we should be alright.”
So far this season, the Raptors have done well holding Johnson at bay. He’s averaged 6.3 points and 6.0 rebounds per game during Boston’s three games (all losses) to his former squad.
But Johnson is capable of doing a lot more than just scoring and rebounding the ball. He does a lot of the little things that don’t show up in the box score, which is why he’s a coach’s dream.
“I love Amir,” said Casey, who coached Johnson for four years in Toronto. “He’s a competitor, he’s a leader, he’s one of the guys that sets the tone for your team and does a lot of the nuances that you really don’t notice with the naked eye.
Some of those nuances include setting picks for his teammates and boxing out the opposition. The 6-foot-9 forward also runs the floor as well as any big man in the NBA.
“He’s been a sprinter all of his life, and that’s one thing our bigs have to do tonight is make sure they get back with him,” said Casey. “He was a sprinter in high school and he’s one of those guys that knows how to run and is really fast, so he does a great job of setting the tone for the running game by running to the rim.”
At the moment, Johnson’s all-out hustle is enabling him to be an efficient force on the offensive end, and he’s played a critical role during Boston’s last two wins.
Maintaining that efficiency against his former team tonight, however, will be challenging task. After all, the second-place Raptors know better than anyone what Johnson brings to the table.